By Vincent Ferrao
Women in the labour market
Employment by province
Education level linked to employment rate
Young women saw steep employment losses during recent downturn
More employed mothers
Mothers in two-parent families more likely to be employed than lone-parent mothers
Women are more likely to work part time than men
Increasing numbers of women are self-employed
Young women and men are more likely to have temporary employment
Multiple job-holding increases for women
Unionization rates higher for women than men
Despite progress, women still concentrated in traditional female occupations
Even in an economic slowdown, unemployment rate lower for women than men
Reasons for unemployment vary
Immigrants and the labour market
The Aboriginal population and the labour market
In 2009, 58.3% of women, representing 8.1 million women, were employed. This is more than double the number of women employed in 1976. Additionally, women’s labour market experiences today differ vastly from 1976. Using the Labour Force Survey, this chapter of Women in Canada will examine the labour market experiences of women over time and compare them to that of men’s. More specifically, it will examine employment and unemployment trends, part-time, education, women with children in the labour market, self-employment, occupations, unionization, multiple job-holding and temporary work trends.
The percentage of women who are employed has generally followed an upward trend over the past three decades, but has declined during economic downturns.
After the recession of the early 1990s, the percentage of employed women rose steadily, reaching 59.3% in 2008. In 2009, however, as the most recent labour market downturn took hold, it fell by a full percentage point in 2009 to 58.3%, representing 8,076,000 employed women (Table 1). However, for women the downturn’s effects on employment were less severe than for men. In 2009, the share of men who were employed dropped much more steeply, 2.9 percentage points to 65.2%, than that of women. This repeats a similar pattern seen in the previous two recessions (those of the early 1980s and early 1990s), when the percentage of women who were employed fell much less steeply than that of men (Chart 1).
Women and men in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta were most likely to be employed in 2009; their employment rates were higher than those of women and men in all other provinces (Table 2).
In 2009, Alberta had the highest percentage of employed women in the country, at 64.1%, a trend that began in the mid-1970s.
The percentage of women working in Saskatchewan in 2009 was 61.8%; in Manitoba, the rate was 60.3%.
The lowest employment rates for women and men were in Newfoundland and Labrador, where 47.8% of women and 52.5% of men were working at a job or business in 2009.
Women in all provinces continued to have lower employment rates than men in 2009. However, the gap narrowed in most provinces: women were generally less affected by the labour market downturn.
Even during economic downturns, the likelihood of being employed increases the higher the level of educational attainment. In 2009, 74.7% of women with a university degree, 59.1% of those with some postsecondary training and 56.2% of high school graduates were employed. In contrast, 35.0% of women who had attended, but had not completed, high school and just 13.7% of those who had not gone beyond grade 8 were employed that year (Table 3).
Regardless of educational attainment, women are still less likely than men to be employed, although the gaps are narrowest among women with higher levels of education. Among those with a university degree, for example, 74.7% of women, versus 77.3% of men, were employed in 2009. Similarly, among those with a non-university postsecondary certificate or diploma, 69.2% of women, compared with 73.5% of men, were employed. In contrast, women with less than a grade 9 education were only half as likely to be employed that year as their male counterparts—13.7% versus 27.1%. These differences can be partly explained by the variation in the education and work experiences of different age groups. At the same time, these patterns generally hold among all age groups over the age of 25.
These patterns do not hold, however, in the 15-to-24 age group, where young women with higher levels of education perform better than young men with the same levels of education. For example, 77.2% of women under 25 with a non-university postsecondary certificate or diploma were employed in 2009, compared with 73.0% of men.
Women in nearly all age groups were affected by the recent downturn in the labour market. Women aged 15 to 24 were particularly hard hit: their employment rate fell from 60.3% in 2008 to 57.1% in 2009. Even with this decline, they fared better than young men, whose employment rate dropped from 58.9% to 53.6% over the same period (Table 4).
The employment rate for women aged 25 to 44 dipped to 77.1%; for women 45 to 54 it fell to 77.3%, a decline of 0.9 percentage points for both. However, for women aged 55 to 64, the employment rate rose from 51.9% in 2008 to 53.1% in 2009. Among men, the employment rate fell much more steeply for those between 25 and 54 years of age, and declined moderately for those aged 55 to 64.
Women, despite considerable strides over the past three decades, are still less likely to be employed than men. The exception is young women aged 15 to 24 who, in recent years, have consistently posted higher employment rates than young men.
The employment rate of women with children has generally been increasing over the past three decades. In 2009, 72.9% of women with children under 16 living at home were part of the employed workforce. Although the percentage has declined compared with 2008 and 2007, it is still up from 39.1% in 1976 (Table 5).
The growth in the employment rate among women with children has been particularly sharp over the past three decades, women with children are still less likely to be employed than women without children. In 2009, 80.4% of women under age 55 without children were employed.
The strong growth in labour force participation among women with young children is reflected in their employment rates. By 2009, 64.4% of women with children less than age 3 were employed, more than double the figure in 1976, when only 27.6% of these women were employed. Similarly, 69.7% of women whose youngest child was from 3 to 5 years of age were working in 2009, up from 36.8% in 1976 (Chart 2).
Although the proportion of women who were employed and had pre-school-aged children has grown, they are still less likely to be employed than women with school-aged children. In 2009, 66.5% of women with children under age 6 were employed, compared with 78.5% of those whose youngest child was aged 6 to 15.
Female lone parents are less likely to be employed than mothers in two-parent families. In 2009, 68.9% of female lone parents with children less than age 16 living at home were employed, compared with 73.8% of their counterparts in two-parent families. This represents a major shift from the late 1970s, when female lone parents were more likely to be employed than mothers with partners (Table 6).
In the intervening years, the employment rate of mothers in two-parent families grew steadily, surpassing that of female lone parents in the mid-1980s. However, in recent years, the proportion of employed lone mothers has increased substantially, jumping 20 percentage points from 1995 to 2008 (Chart 3). Over the same period, the proportion of employed mothers in two-parent families increased by 8 percentage points. The labour market downturn in 2009 affected female lone parents: the employment rate of such women with a youngest child under 16 slipped from 70.6% in 2008 to 68.9% in 2009. The rate also declined for women in two-parent families with children under 16, from 74.5% in 2008 to 73.8% in 2009.
The presence of young children also has a greater impact on the employment of lone mothers than on their counterparts with partners. In 2009, 45.9% of lone mothers with children under age 3 were employed, compared with 66.5% of mothers in two-parent families with children under age 3. Among those whose youngest child was aged 3 to 5, 66.0% of female lone parents, compared with 70.5% of mothers in two-parent families, were part of the paid workforce in 2009. The employment-related consequences of the downturn in the labour market were more severe for female lone parents with the youngest child aged less than 3 than for women in two-parent families with children in the same age group. The employment rate of women in two-parent families with children less than 3 years of age was nearly unchanged in 2009, at 66.5%, compared with 2008. In contrast, the employment rate for lone-parent mothers dropped from 49.1% in 2008 to 45.9% in 2009.
While about 73% of employed women worked full time in 2009, women were, nevertheless, more likely than men to work part time. In 2009, 2.2 million women worked part time. The share of women working fewer than 30 hours per week at their main job has risen slightly from 23.6% in 1976 to 26.9% in 2009. This contrasts with men, whose part-time rate in 2009 at 11.9%, was less than half that of women. The men’s rate, however, has nevertheless more than doubled for men since 1976, when 5.9% of men worked part time.
Of all part-time workers in 2009, nearly 7 out of 10 were women. This proportion has changed little over the past three decades (Table 7).
Over one-half of young women aged 15 to 24 worked part time in 2009, compared with 38.7% of men. This phenomenon became evident in the early 1990s and has changed little since then. In 1976, one-quarter of young women worked part time, and by 1993, the proportion had climbed to 50.2%. By 2009, the percentage of young women working part time reached 54.8%. This compares with about 20% of women who worked part time in 2009 in the core age group (25 to 54 years) and 28.3% of women aged 55 to 64.
Across all age groups, women are more likely than men to work part time. This is especially true of men and women over 25. In 2009, 19.5% of women aged 25 to 44 and 20.0% of women aged 45 to 54 worked part time; the rates for men in the same age groups were 5.8% and 5.1%, respectively (Table 8).
Most women who work part time do so either because they do not want full-time employment or because part-time work is more appropriate for their personal situation. In 2009, 27.7% of women employed part time reported they did not want full-time work—by personal preference—and 25.0% reported they were going to school (Table 9).
Some women, however, work part time because of childcare or other responsibilities. In 2009, nearly one in five female part-time workers said they worked part time because of personal or family responsibilities. That year, 13.4% said they did not work full time because they were caring for children, and 3.8% reported other family or personal responsibilities as the reason they worked part time. In sharp contrast, only 2.3% of male part-time workers cited these as reasons they did not work full time.
At the same time, a substantial number of women work part time because they cannot find full-time employment. In 2009, 25.9% of female part-time employees indicated reported wanting full-time employment, but only finding part-time work. Women were less likely than men to work part time involuntarily. In 2009, 30.9% of male part-time workers wanted full-time employment.
The reasons women work part time also varied considerably by age. Almost 35% of women aged 25 to 44, for example, stated that they worked part time to care for their children, compared with 5.5% of women aged 45 and older. In contrast, women aged 15 to 24 were most likely to work part time because they were going to school, while those aged 45 and over were most likely to not want full-time employment.
A growing number of women are self-employed. In 2009, nearly 1 million women, 11.9% of all those with jobs, were self-employed, up from 8.6% in 1976. Self-employment has grown about as fast among women as it has among men in the past two decades, though women are still less likely than men to be self-employed: 11.9% versus 19.9% in 2009. Women accounted for 35.5% of all self-employed workers in 2009, up from 30.7% in 1991 and 26.3% in 1976 (Table 10).
In an economic downturn, the number of self-employed tends to rise, and the number of employees declines. Some employees who lose their jobs and are unable to find others generate their own work and become self-employed. In 2009, a year of downturn for the labour market, the number of self-employed women rose 5.4% from the year before, while the number of employees fell 1.1%—virtually all in the private sector. Over the same period, the number of self-employed men rose 1.3%, a slower rate than that of women. The number of male employees dropped 3.7%, also virtually all in the private sector.
Temporary employment is defined as working at a job that has a predetermined end date. In 2009, 12.9% of employed women had temporary employment, compared with 12.1% of men (Chart 4). This was down from the peak in 2005, when almost 14% of women and 12.5% of men who were employed worked in temporary jobs.
The proportion of those working in temporary jobs varies widely. In 2009, young women aged 15 to 24 were three times more likely to have temporary employment than women aged 45 and over—28.0% compared with 8.5%. This relationship held for men as well: younger men were substantially more likely to have temporary jobs than older men.
Women make up a growing share of employees holding more than one job. By 2009, about 56% of multiple job holders were women. This is because the percentage of women holding more than one job continues to grow, while men’s share remains relatively constant. In 1987, 4.0% of employed women held multiple jobs; by 2009, 6.2% of employed women did so. The corresponding share of men working at more than one job over this period rose from 4.2% to 4.4% (Table 11).
Young women had the highest incidence of multiple job holding. In 2009, 8.0% of employed women aged 15 to 24 were multiple job holders. This compares with 6.3% of women aged 25 to 44 and 5.4% of women aged 45 and older. At every age group, employed women were more likely than men to have more than one job.
The percentage of women who are in unionized jobs has risen dramatically. In 1976, 22.3% of women were in unionized jobs; by 2009, this had increased to 32.6% (Chart 5). Men’s unionization has decreased, from 39% in 1976 to 30.3% in 2009. As a result, unionization rates were slightly higher among women than men in 2009.
Unionization density varies both by sex and by age: it increases with age for both sexes (Chart 6). For example, while 15.4% of employed women aged 15 to 24 held unionized jobs, more than 35% of women in the older age groups were in unionized jobs. Interestingly, in the 15-to-24 age group, unionization was higher for men than women. However, in older age groups, women’s unionization density exceeded men’s.
The majority of employed women continue to work in occupations in which they have been traditionally concentrated. In 2009, 67% of all employed women were working in teaching, nursing and related health occupations, clerical or other administrative positions, or sales and service occupations. This compared with 31% of employed men (Table 12).
The proportion of women employed in traditionally female-dominated occupations, however, has declined slowly over the past two decades. In 2009, 67.0% of employed women were working in one of these areas, down from 71.8% in 1987.
Most of this decline since the late 1980s has been accounted for by falling percentages employed in clerical and related administrative jobs. In 2009, 23.2% of employed women had these types of jobs, compared with 29.7% in 1987 (Chart 7). In contrast, the share of women in teaching positions rose slightly, from 3.8% to 5.8%, over this period; the share of women working in nursing and related occupations increased from 8.3% to 9.1%, and the share of women in sales and service jobs slipped from 30.0% to 28.9%.
Women’s share of total employment in these traditional occupational groups is still significant: in 2009, 87.1% of nurses and health-related therapists, 75.5% of clerks and other administrators, 65.9% of teachers and 56.9% of sales and service personnel were women.
Women have, however, increased their representation in several professional fields in recent years. For example, women comprised 51.2% of business and financial professionals in 2009, up from 38.3% in 1987. The share of women employed has gone up in diagnostic and treating positions in medicine and related health professions. In fact, women made up more than one-half (55.2%) of doctors, dentists and other health occupations in 2009, up from 43.1% in 1987. Similarly, 72.5% of professionals employed in social sciences or religion in 2009 were women, compared with 61.4% in 1987.
Women have also increased their share of total employment in managerial positions. In 2009, they comprised 37.0% of those employed in managerial positions, up from 30.1% in 1987. Among managers, however, women tend to be better represented among lower-level managers than among those at more senior levels. In 2009, women made up 31.6% of senior managers (up from 21.0% in 1987), but 37.4% of managers at other levels in 2009.
Women are also still a minority among professionals in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. In 2009, just 22.3% of professionals in these occupations were women, up marginally from 19.5% in 1987.
Relatively few women are employed in most goods-producing occupations, as was traditionally the case. In 2009, 30.1% of workers in manufacturing were women, as were 19.5% of those in primary industries and just 6.4% of those in transportation, trades, and construction work. The representation of women in manufacturing has edged down; in transportation, trades and construction-related occupations, however, women’s representation has increased slightly since the late 1980s. In primary industries, the percentage of women employed was about the same in 2009 as it was in 1987.
The economic slowdown affected the labour market for both men and women. In 2009, the worst year of the labour market downturn, the number of unemployed women rose to 608,000, compared with 487,000 in 2008 and 476,000 in 2007. The female unemployment rate jumped to 7.0% in 2009, the highest since 2003 (Chart 8).
Despite the increase in unemployment, women were affected less than men during the 2009 downturn in the labour market. The industries hardest hit by employment losses in 2009 were those in the goods-producing sector, mainly manufacturing, construction and natural resources. Employment in these industries is male-dominated. Women, in contrast, are employed more than men in service industries where employment continued to grow, such as health care and social assistance, educational services and finance, insurance, real estate and leasing. This helped cushion the impact that the downtown had on women. While the level and rate of unemployment rose for women in 2009, the increase was less steep than that for men, for whom the unemployment rate reached 9.4%, the highest rate since 1996.
Even though the unemployment rate rose for women during the recession, it remained lower than for men, as it has consistently been since the beginning of the 1990s. This contrasts with much of the period from 1976 to 1989, when women posted higher unemployment rates than men.
Among women, those aged 15 to 24 saw the largest increase in their unemployment rate, from 10.0% in 2007 and 2008 to 12.4% in 2009. This was more than twice the unemployment rate of women in the older cohorts—those aged 25 to 44 and 45 to 64 (Table 13).
Although young women (those 15 to 24) have the highest unemployment rate among women, they have a lower unemployment rate than young men. During the recent labour market downturn, the unemployment rate for young women rose from 10.0% in 2008 to 12.4% in 2009; the rate for young men rose more sharply from 13.1% to 18.0% over the same period. Although the unemployment rate rose for both men and women aged 25 to 44 and 45 to 64, women’s rates were a full two percentage points lower than men’s.
Women in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec generally have higher unemployment rates than women in other provinces. However, the 2009 downturn pushed unemployment rates higher for women in all provinces. Young women (aged 15 to 24) in Ontario posted the second-highest unemployment rate (14.4%) in 2009, behind young women in Newfoundland and Labrador (16.0%). For women in other age groups, unemployment rates were also highest in Newfoundland and Labrador—11.2% for 25 to 44-year-olds and 13.1% for 45 to 64-year-olds.
In 2009, 12.6% of all women in the labour force in Newfoundland and Labrador were unemployed, the highest in Canada. The unemployment rate for women was 10.1% in Prince Edward Island, 7.4% in Nova Scotia and 7.5% in New Brunswick in 2009. At 6.9%, the unemployment rate of women in Quebec was below that for women in Ontario, 7.7%. In 2009, unemployment rates for women in the western provinces were the lowest in the country: in Manitoba, it was 5.0%; Saskatchewan, 4.2%; Alberta, 5.8%; and British Columbia, 6.5%. In all provinces in 2009, unemployment rates were lower for women than for men (Table 14).
Unemployment occurs for several reasons. For example, in 2009, 45.6% of unemployed women lost their job or were laid off. At the same time, 23.7% of unemployed women were labour force re-entrants who had not worked in the past year, and another 9.7% were job market entrants—they had never been employed. Another 5.6% of unemployed women had left their last job to go to school, 2.6% had left because of personal or family responsibilities, and another 2.1% had left because of personal illness (Table 15).
Although much of the labour market downturn occurred in 2009, among the unemployed, women were less likely than men to have lost their last job or been laid off—45.6% of unemployed women compared with 58.2% of unemployed men.
Unemployed women were more likely than men to have been either job market entrants or labour force re-entrants who had not worked in the previous year. In 2009, 9.7% of unemployed women were job market entrants, and 23.7% had not worked in the previous year. This contrasts with 6.6% of men who were job market entrants and 18.7% who were unemployed and had not worked in the previous year.
Unemployed women were also more likely than unemployed men to have left their last job because of personal or family responsibilities.
In 2009, 51.0% of the total foreign-born female population was employed, compared with 60.6% of women born in Canada.
Women who were very recent immigrants—those who had been in the country 5 years or less—had the lowest employment rate, 49.1%. Women who had been in the country from 5 to 10 years, and those who had been in Canada more than 10 years—called ‘established immigrants’—fared better, with employment rates of 56.3% and 50.3%, respectively.
Compared with immigrant men, immigrant women in 2009 posted lower employment rates, irrespective of the length of time spent in the country. Women born in Canada also had a lower employment rate, 60.6%, than men born in Canada (66.4%).
The labour market downturn had a greater impact on unemployment rates for immigrant women than for Canadian-born women. In 2009, the female immigrant unemployment rate reached 9.6%, up from 7.4% in 2008: the rate for women born in Canada was 6.3% in 2009, up from 5.2% in 2008.
Women who were very recent immigrants posted the highest unemployment rate, 15.9% in 2009, followed by recent immigrants, 12.6%, and established immigrants, 7.5%. The unemployment rate for the total female immigrant population was 9.6% in 2009, lower than that for male immigrants (10.5%). However, among very recent immigrants, the female unemployment rate (15.9%) was higher than the male unemployment rate (14.3%) (Table 16).
In 2009, 53.7% of the female Aboriginal population1 was employed, compared with 60.6% of their male counterparts. In 2009, the Aboriginal women’s rate fell 1.1 percentage points from 54.8% the year before. Aboriginal men saw a steeper decline, from 66.1% to 60.6% over the same period.
The employment rate for Aboriginal women, 53.7%, was less than that of non-Aboriginal women, 58.4%, in 2009. Among Aboriginal women, the employment rate for the Métis was 58.2%, the same as in 2007, but down from 59.2% in 2008. Conversely, women who were North American Indian saw their employment rate decline from 50.9% in 2007 to 49.7% in 2009.
The decline in employment in 2009 lifted the female Aboriginal unemployment rate to 12.7% from 10.0% in 2007 and 10.4% in 2008. Despite this increase, the unemployment rate for Aboriginal women was below that of Aboriginal men, 15.1%, in 2009.
The female Aboriginal unemployment rate in 2009, 12.7%, was nearly twice that of non-Aboriginal women, 6.9% (Table 17).
Within the Aboriginal identity population, North American Indians had the highest unemployment rates. For example, in 2009 North American Indian women had an unemployment rate of 15.0%, and their male counterparts had an unemployment rate of 18.0% that same year—about twice that of their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Among Métis, the unemployment rates were slightly lower, 10.3% for women and 12.3% for men.
Of the unemployed individuals who had contributed to the Employment Insurance (EI) program and had a valid job separation in 2009, 558,000, or 65.1%, were men. In 2009, 87.3% of male EI contributors were eligible for regular benefits, up from 84.6% in 2008. Of the 299,000 unemployed women who were contributors with a valid job separation, 84.3% were eligible for EI benefits in 2009, up from 77.8% a year earlier (data not shown).
Compared with men, a higher share of women had quit their job for a reason that disqualified them from collecting regular benefits, and a slightly higher share of women than men had not accumulated enough insurable hours.
Nearly one-third of unemployed women (32.5%) did not contribute to EI, compared with 28.0% of their male counterparts. The proportion of women was slightly higher than that of men, mainly because women were less likely to have had paid employment in the previous 12 months.
In 2009, 76.2% of all recent mothers (with a child aged 12 months or less) had insurable employment; among these insured mothers, 88.0% were receiving maternity or parental benefits. Both rates were essentially unchanged from 2008 (77.0% and 88.1%, respectively). Conversely, the share of recent fathers taking parental leave in 2009 was 30.1%, up slightly from 28.2% in 2008.
The number of women receiving Employment Insurance (EI) income benefits increased in 2009 to a monthly average of about 483,000 recipients, up from about 392,000 per month in 2008. The number of men receiving income benefits was higher than for women in 2009, with about 574,000 men per month receiving EI income benefits.
The type of income benefits received differs by sex. For example, about 734,000 people received regular income benefits each month in 2009. About 36% of those receiving these regular income benefits were women, as were 31.5% of those receiving training benefits and 29.7% of those receiving work-sharing benefits. Conversely, women made up the lion’s share of those receiving parental benefits. For example, about 114,000 individuals received parental income benefits each month in 2009—of these, 92.5% (105,000) were women. Women’s share of sickness benefits was also higher than men’s. In 2009, about 62,000 people received EI sickness benefits each month, and about 57.5% of those receiving them were women (Box Table).